My tailor loves my body. Really. We have an odd relationship. I’ve been to the same tailor about five times now for all kinds of various Cameroonian wear. This odd relationship started the very first time I went. I had my arms outstretched so she could take my measurements. As she’s measuring away, she decides she’d like to take this opportunity to hug me. I wasn’t sure if this was a part of the standard measuring routine, but I went along with it. Yet another time when I went to see her, she asked me (like my Ma) “Tu portes un bustier?” Are you wearing a bra/undershirt? And she takes a grab of my chest to find out for herself! What is it with Cameroonian women and my chest?!?!
Yesterday was an all-around winning day at the tailors. I tried on the newest shirt she’d finished for me. It was comfortably loose and roomy. As my fellow trainee Siobhan says, “It’s like pulling teeth to try to get tight clothes around here!” Shiobhan had gone to our tailor about 4 times to take in one of her dresses. It was still too loose. Huge floaty moo-moos are the permanent fashion of most Cameroonian women.
Somehow I am an exemption from the no-tight-clothing rule. When I picked up the shirt yesterday, I was happy with its large floaty size. Not my tailor! She says “Take that off, I’m going to take it in. I’m going to make you look très sexy, Fleurange!” As I walked up the hill to the training house today, my new shirt was so tight I could hardly breathe. I could literally feel the side seams stretching as I am gasping/trying not to die on that hill. Thanks, tailor! At least I supposedly look good while I wheeze. (Wheezing is sexy?)
So here’s the corset. I mean, shirt.
I went to the tailors with a friend who was making her first trip there, so she was getting her measurements taken. The tailor jokingly asked me if she should take my measurements again. I laughed and said, “You better, I think I’m getting fatter!” The tailor takes a good look at me and proclaims, “Ahh nonnn, Fleurange!” But now I’m curious, and I get her to take my measurements anyway. So as she measures, she flips back in her book to where she has my initial sizes from a month and a half ago. She looks at the tape measurer around my tush. She looks at her book. She looks back at the tape measurer. Then she starts giggling. “Trois centimetres de plus!” Three centimeters more! And all of her employees, dutifully sewing away on their machines, look up and start laughing at me! The tailor knows my Ma, and tells me, “Your Ma feeds you well!” Yes, she does!
Well, I can take comfort in this fact however, because apparently, I am three centimeters closer to Respect as a woman in Cameroon. Bon. Allow me to rewind. About a month ago, during my site visit up to my new town, I was chatting with my predecessor and a couple of her Cameroonian friends. They recounted a story I found startling. Apparently, when my predecessor first arrived in my town, she was rail thin. The Cameroonians did not like this. They thought she looked like a little girl. Specifically, an 18 year old. “Who is this little girl you sent us?” they asked! “How are we supposed to take her or anything she says seriously?!”
They described another American woman who worked in a nearby village. She was tall, broad, and buxom. And apparently, that alone is a huge step towards being respected around here. “Now that is a real woman,” the Cameroonians said. She was in fact, a project manager, and by her physique alone, a commanding presence. When she entered a room people would notice. Therefore, the Cameroonians gently recommended… that I eat up. For my own good.
Unnerving? Of course. Just as women are encouraged to be skinnier than is necessarily healthy in my country, women here are seemingly encouraged to be fattier than is necessary or healthy. Bon.
So I’ve adopted a no worries attitude. If I’m three centimeters more of tush now, I’ll take care of that once I get to my site. And until then, I’ll just revel in a little not-so-merited respect. :) My tailor says it looks good.
1 year ago